Daenerys Targaryen’s emergence from the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen is, of course, a turning point in the entire series, heralding the Mother of Dragons’s rise as the head of all the Dothraki – a long-dangling plot thread since the very first season – and a major stepping stone to her invasion of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros (my prediction: given just how quickly this season has been moving already, expect to see the Targaryen host make landfall in the finale, perhaps as the cliffhanger ending to end all cliffhanger endings [sorry, Jon Snow]).
The episode’s ending, however, also marks another major narrative development, this one thematic in nature: it’s a giant revolution of the storytelling wheel, a coming full-circle for Daenerys (yet another way the audience can tell that the series is imminently drawing to a close). Her emerging from the fire that serves as the makeshift funeral pyre for all the various khals is, obviously, a direct parallel to her triumphant hatching of the dragon eggs in “Fire and Blood” (episode 110) – another instance in which the character was able to turn personal tragedy (in that case, the death of Drogo) into unthinkable success (bringing magic back into the world).
But the dramatic situation as a whole is also familiar ground: her presence in the temple, where she ate the horse’s heart and had her child proclaimed the future conqueror of the known world; her return to the Dothraki more generally still, the people that were initially supposed to make up the brunt of the original invasion army; and Ser Jorah Mormont’s dutiful, worshipful bowing to a being that has some sort of supernatural ability. It is both a reminder of how far the exiled princess has come and an indicator that she’s treading exactly the path that she’s always needed to – although both her husband and son have been taken from her, she is still assembling the host that will mount the world.
What’s so striking about the sequence is how it is replayed and reflected in nearly all of the episode’s other various story threads, chief among them the developments at Winterfell. Once again, Young Rickon is being held hostage in his own home, though, this time, it is to another northerner, the demented Ramsay Bolton, instead of the outsider Theon Greyjoy (although it should be noted, interestingly enough, that the former is alien to the Stark children, while the latter was practically family); once again, Osha attempts to work her wiles against her captor, though it results in the trick backfiring on her, and she is left to bled out on the floor while Ramsay casually looks on.
This coming full-circle, obviously, is less a parallel and more a reflection, playing the viewers’ expectations against him and resulting in a climax that is rendered all the more powerful for it. That “Book of the Stranger’s” writers, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, opted to employ the two together in the same installment only heightens their individual effectiveness (audiences can’t possibly be sure where the scenes are going to go, which is, of course, an amplification of the series’s overall storytelling modus operandi) while working to reinforce the collective thematic motif.
Caught in the middle of this push and pull between the two sides of the thematic divide are practically all the other characters – Jon Snow struggling to find a path for himself while assembling a coalition of followers, Tyrion Lannister attempting to lead his city out of an impossible siege, Theon desperate for acceptance back home – looking for purchase as we quickly approach the conclusion to one of television’s most convoluted, most thematically rich series.